First guilty plea in Little India riot

SINGAPORE - A 32-year-old Indian national has become the first man to plead guilty for his role in last December's Little India riot.

Chinnappa Vijayaragunatha Poopathi, who was originally accused of rioting, last Friday admitted his guilt to an amended charge of continuing in an assembly after it had been ordered to disperse under Section 151 of the Penal Code.

He now faces up to two years in jail and/or a fine during his sentencing, which has been set for Monday, as opposed to seven years and caning for rioting.

This is believed to be the first time that Section 151 has been invoked in Singapore.

More details of the Dec 8 riot, which led to 25 men being charged, were also revealed during Chinnappa's hearing. Court documents now show that an Indian national, whose death sparked the riot, "appeared to be drunk and... removed his bermuda shorts" before being told to alight from a bus ferrying workers back to their dormitories.

The 33-year-old man, Mr Sakthivel Kumaravelu, was then run over by the bus and killed. The accident, at around 9.15pm, pulled in a crowd. This grew into a riot in which 49 Home Team officers were injured.

Earlier that day, Chinnappa, a construction worker earning $22 a day, had gone to Serangoon Road to meet another Indian worker, 23-year-old Singaravelu Vignesh, who was also arrested later.

At around 8pm, they drank beer bought from a provision shop. Three hours later, they went to the Kodai Canteen eatery near the junction of Kerbau Road and Chander Road, where groups of rioters had been hurling projectiles at Home Team personnel.

Despite a warning for all persons in the vicinity to disperse, the pair still made their way to the canteen, where they joined an assembly of about 10 people.

Chinnappa then "shouted at the canteen employees, demanding that they reopen the shops and sell alcohol to them, further heightening tensions", court documents said.

Despite the canteen being closed, he refused to leave until more police arrived. He was later arrested along Kerbau Road.

Chinnappa told the court last Friday: "I did not attack anyone, nor did I scold anyone."

He had not caused any damage to persons or property, added his lawyer Sunil Sudheesan. "He essentially was at the wrong place at the wrong time."

As for the amendment in the charge, the Attorney-General's Chambers said it had taken into careful consideration the extent of the accused's involvement, his guilty plea and representations made by the defence.

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